The American Senior Alliance had the pleasure of attending the Georgia Falls Prevention Awareness Day at the world class Shepherd Center and were absolutely amazed at how many people came out to support it. Falls are extremely common among senior citizens.
According to the Shepherd Center,one in three seniors aged 65 and over suffer from a fall annually. Many of their injuries are head trauma and broken bones.
Every 14 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 29 minutes, an older adult dies following a fall. Those stunning statistics should immediately concern most Americans.
CDC studies show that falls among senior citizens are costly and serious. Adjusted for inflation, the direct medical costs for falls are a whopping $31 billion annually. Hospital costs account for two-thirds of the total.
Dr. Emma Harrington, MSPS, Ed.M., director of injury and education services at Shepherd Center, stresses people can fall from any height and at any age. As people get older, the falls and severity of the injury increase. However, Dr Harrington offers the encouraging news that falls are not an inevitable part of aging, and most are preventable.
There are several things that we can all do to try and reduce the risk of falls in our elder population. The Mayo clinic advises, visit your doctor to evaluate your risk factors.
To make the visit a little easier to manage, the Mayo clinic thinks it's an excellent idea going in to be prepared to answer questions from your physician about your medications, previous falls, and health conditions.
To streamline the process, make a list of your medications. It is likely your doctor will want to know about specific falls. By knowing your history and experiences, they can easily develop plans to lower risk factors of potential falls.
Also, it is likely that hearing and visual impairments could cause falls, so seek professional assistance to ensure they aren't any impairments being met.
In addition to physician visits, the Mayo Clinic advises to wear shoes that fit comfortably and to engage in a program that improves flexibility and strength. Also, should a physician suggest a walker or a cane, take the time to learn how to use the aid and make sure it fits properly. Aids that poorly fit can can actually increase the risk of falls.
According to the National Council on Aging, they believe seniors need to take time out of their schedule to do a simple safety assessment of their home.
While making the special effort to walk through their home, it is a good idea to pay extra attention to examining the lighting, stairways and bathrooms. Most senior citizens need their stairways to have secure rails on both sides, and increase lighting at the top and bottom of the stairs, as well as good lighting throughout house. When seniors wake up in the middle of the night, they always need lighting to be readily available. Also, take time to install grab bars in the shower area, and for greater safety, consider using a shower chair or a hand-held shower.
In addition to making the home environment as safe as possible, the experts at the Shepherd Center offer additional tips that could help prevent falls.
- Use extreme caution when climbing on anything - Even a small step stool in the kitchen or when you hang pictures.
- Make modifications in your home- Remove any loose rugs or cords, keep pathways clear, ditch clutter, use motion-activated night-lights and keep flashlights handy to help guide you in the dark. Non-slip mats and grab bars, if needed, can help make bathrooms safer.
- Wear suitable shoes - Make sure they fit well and ideally have non-skid soles.
- Always wear a helmet- If you ride bikes, motorcycles, scooters or horses, protect your head.
- Hire a professional- For outside jobs like cleaning the gutters or painting the house, it’s probably best to leave it to the experts. Spending the money to have the gutters cleaned is a lot less costly than a catastrophic injury, Harrington notes.
- Stay healthy and active- Keep up with annual eye exams and physicals, which can alert you and your doctor to problems that might make you more prone to falls. Help maintain muscle tone and core body strength by staying active. Talk with your doctor if you’ve had a fall or think you are at risk of falling; he or she can provide resources. Always be extra careful when drinking alcohol and don’t check your smartphone while walking.
- Review your medications-Talk with your health care team about the list of medications – prescription and over-the-counter – that you take. Sometimes certain medications or combinations of medications can leave you feeling off balance.
- Accept assistance when you need it- If you feel unsteady or unsure, ask for help.
Former Shepherd Center resident Kenny Pope offers sound advice for everyone. Mr. Pope wants people to slow down and think through what you are doing and carefully study possible risks.
All it takes is one slip.